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Vastus Lateralis – Functional Anatomy

Vastus lateralis – lateral view with rectus femoris

Overview of Anatomy

The functional anatomy of the vastus lateralis is largely uncomplicated. However, it has frequent and subtle variations. The fascia lata thickens and forms the iliotibial tract, along the lateral aspect of the vastus lateralis.


  • proximal femur, including greater trochanter
  • gluteal tuberosity
  • linea aspera
  • intermuscular septum


  • lateral aspect of the patella and, eventually, the tibial tuberosity of the tibia via the patellar ligament


  • extension of the knee


  • the femoral nerve of the lumbar plexus (L2-L4)
Vastus lateralis – anterior view with iliac and thigh muscles

Functional Considerations

The vastus lateralis is the largest and strongest quadriceps muscle. Primarily, it extends the knee. However, it also helps to stabilize the knee with the tension of the other structures around the patella.

Anomalies, Etc.

Many studies refer to the anterior thigh muscles as minimal in variability. Additionally, most studies of variability cite one or two cases.

Studies Vary

However, studies like this one disagree. In about one-third of limbs in this study of 40 cadavers, a fifth head was found.

Another study shows that it has an additional head in about 60% of cases. These extra heads are typically called vastus lateralis longus and vastus lateralis obliquus.

The same study states that fusion with vastus intermedius and lateralis also varies. Their illustrations differ significantly from typical descriptions of the attachments of the quadriceps femoris along the posterior and lateral femur.

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Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia, where he sees clients. He has written materials and instructed classes since the mid-90s. This includes anatomy, trigger points, cranial, and neuromuscular.

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